Nationalist wins Cyprus election, sparking concern about peace talks

Hardline nationalist Dervis Eroglu won Sunday's Cyprus election, but his victory in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus could stall fragile peace talks and harm Turkey's troubled bid to join the European Union.

Murad Sezer/Reuters
Cyprus election: Hardline leader of the National Unity Party (UBP) Dervis Eroglu celebrates his victory at the party headquarters in Nicosia, in the Turkish-administered northern part of Cyprus, Sunday.

Sunday’s presidential election in Northern Cyprus, won by a hardline nationalist, could send ripples far beyond the divided island’s territory by stalling fragile peace talks and harming Turkey’s troubled bid to join the European Union, analysts say.

According to unofficial results, hardline leader of the National Unity Party (UBP) Dervis Eroglu won the election in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a country only recognized by Ankara.

Mr. Eroglu had said that if elected he would revisit ongoing reunification talks that have been conducted by the outgoing president, Mehmet Ali Talat, for the past two years.

Mr. Talat, leader of the left-leaning Republican Turkish Party (CTP), supports reunification of the island, which has been split into Greek and Turkish sides since 1974. Eroglu, currently Northern Cyprus’s Prime Minister, has said he would like to see a two-state confederation, something the Greek Cypriots oppose.

“What Eroglu wants is very difficult for the Greek Cypriot to accept and he wants to revisit everything that’s been talked about over the last two years. If time runs away with this again, then partition will become irreversibly entrenched,” says Hugh Pope, an analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

“Barring a miracle, [a suspension in talks] would put Turkey‘s EU membership negotiations in deep freeze,” says Pope. “Everyone loses.”

Turkey's EU bid

Turkey‘s troubled EU-membership drive is inextricably tied up with the Cyprus problem.

The Greek-speaking southern part of the island joined the EU in 2004, and has since used its position in Brussels to stymie Ankara‘s EU bid.

Turkey, meanwhile, is using its NATO membership to strike back, blocking enhanced cooperation between the EU and the defense alliance in protest of what it considers a Brussels held captive by the Greek Cypriot agenda.

EU officials are also pressuring Turkey to open up its ports to Greek Cypriot vessels, something Ankara has so far resisted doing. As a result, several parts of Turkey’s membership negotiations have been frozen.

In a Sunday interview with the private NTV television channel, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan put Ankara’s weight behind continued talks on Cyprus.

"Turkish Cypriots must continue the talks which is something Eroglu also believes in. It is our aim to find a solution by the end of the year," he said. Turkey, which invaded Cyprus in 1974 after a pro-Greek coup, currently has some 35,000 troops stationed on the island.

Will talks continue?

In a victory speech given to his supporters, Eroglu said he does not plan to suspend the peace negotiations. “Talks will continue, because I want peace more than those who say that I don't,” he said.

But Lefteris Adilinis, political editor of the Greek Cypriot newspaper Politis, says there is “concern” on the Greek side about the Eroglu victory.

“The statements that we have heard from him so far have been worrying,” he says.

Some 164,000 Turkish Cypriots were eligible to vote. Observers say much of Eroglu’s popularity can be attributed to Turkish Cypriots’ sense of being betrayed by the international community after they voted in favor of a 2004 UN plan to reunite the island. The Greek Cypriots rejected the plan.

“The voters are trying to send a message that we have been cheated, in the sense that we did our best and the international community did not reward us," says Mete Hatay, a Turkish Cypriot political analyst.

"They are trying to show their anger," says Hatay. "But it doesn‘t mean they don’t want a solution. It’s a gut reaction."

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